Looking back, 2009 was the year that stop-motion animation found its way back to the masses. Selick's Coraline and Elliot's Mary and Max paved the way, but it's probably Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox that holds the power to reach the biggest audience. Not my favorite of the three I mentioned here, but still a mighty fine film alright.
One thing is certain, in Belgium they had the promotion of this film completely wrong. We sat in an almost empty movie theater, being treated to horribly (Dutch!) dubbed trailers of How To Tame A Dragon and Nanny McPhee 2. They've promoted Fantastic Mr Fox as a typical children's film here, while Anderson's latest is so much more than that. But I guess animation (and especially stop-motion animation) still has that kind of effect on people.
Anderson's Mr Fox is based on Roald Dahl's book but has some added spike in the form of Anderson's rather typical sense of humor. I can't really remember reading Dahl's book (it's also a bit more complex for me as the area I'm from has its very own fox legend - Reinhaert The Fox) but I must've read or seen Fantastic Mr Fox is some or other form before, because the story felt extremely familiar to me.
Mr Fox is a family man. At least, he was turned into a family man by his wife, who made him promise to leave behind his wild days of chicken hunting in favor of raising a young cub. A good 12 years later Mr Fox can't take it any more and decides to pick up his old habits, determined to take on the meanest farmers in the neighborhood. Needless to say he lands his tail into a bucket-load of trouble, dragging the whole animal community in a battle of life and death.
Anderson's choice to pursue a retro style works like a charm, but I still feel that he could've done more with it. The puppets and settings sure look neat enough, that's definitely not the issue. Lots of brown and red colors give the film a very warm and earthy atmosphere, the retro designs do the rest. Sadly, the animation itself isn't up to par. Often too stilted and stiff, Anderson never really finds the right balance between oldskool and visually attractive. There are some 2-frame animation sequences that do work, like the cider flood, but in general it does detract a little from the pleasure.
The soundtrack is very typical and only works because it's an Anderson film. Old pop songs and golden classics are littered throughout the film, adding to the somewhat dry and musky atmosphere it tries to create. Normally I would hate this kind of soundtrack, can't really enjoy this type of music outside of film either, but Anderson just makes it work. Magically. The voice acting is pretty good too, with a strong performance of Clooney and a superb selection of side characters. Dafoe, Murray, Schwartzman and Owen Wilson all add something to make the puppets truly come to life. The downside is that some of the voices are a little too recognizable, but that's just a minor quirk.
Fantastic Mr Fox is a rather short film, making sure that it never becomes slow or boring. There's always something to look at, something to look forward to and some joke to keep close for further enjoyment. It's one of those rare film where I wouldn't have minded if the director had added another 15 minutes or so. That said, Dahl's story isn't all that strong or elaborate to warrant any more plot scene, so I'm sure Anderson did good to keep it as short and concise as it is now.
If you like (stop-motion) animation this film is a definite recommendation. The animation itself could've been better, but the whole setting is just too much fun to pass on. It's a strong film in just about every department, only missing that little extra to make it a true classic (Mary and Max is still my definite winner of 2009). So far my favorite Wes Anderson film, here's to hoping he'll keep a close connection to Clooney. I'm pretty sure the two of them can make a truly outstanding live action comedy.